Hard to be humbled

The sun was beating me down as I exited the I-17 highway at 7th Ave. in my boots and dark jeans. The music was blaring and the bike felt good as I was stopped at the light waiting to make a right. I was feeling like a bad ass.

But if I’ve said it once, I’ve said it a thousand times: Pride comes before the fall. I think I’ve even written it.

I didn’t know what it was at first. Something just fell from the sky and made a splash. It happened so quickly. And then I looked down at the left side of my motorcycle gas tank. I’d been bombed. Some POS bird had nailed my bike and the shrapnel off the bird shit had speckled the bottom of my left pant leg as well as my boot from the knee down. Yup. Just when I was feeling like a total bad ass I was reduced to just another vehicle on the road that got pooped on by some bird who doesn’t know me from anything else.

Lesson learned. Well played, God. Well played.

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Rough road

If you own a motorcycle and you live in the Valley Of The Sun, inevitably you will be asked about riding the 88 by Canyon Lake on the way to Tortilla Flat. It’s “that” motorcycle road. On this morning, I had just finished riding South Mountain (see previous post) and had plenty of time so I decided to head East to Apache Junction and to Tortilla Flat which I’ve done countless times before. I think the first time I rode to Tortilla Flat was in 2002 or around that time. This road was my introduction to twisty turns and where I came to love really twisty roads.

Again, this morning was a really warm day relative to the season and by now I was down to my fingerless leather gloves, just my leather jacket and not my vest, and welcoming the wind cooling my bare neck. The 60 freeway is the price one has to pay to take advantage of the 88. I think I’ve posted in the past how I’m not a huge fan of the 60. It’s just a long boring straight away to get to the lake. I started my Victory app on my iPhone from the gas station that is right off the freeway exit to the 88.

I will admit that I had an expectation. In the past — years ago — when I rode this road the last time, I remember a lot of traffic and a lot of fun. Today was a Friday morning and I didn’t expect a ton of traffic but it was later in the morning and I know how much of a tourist trap Tortilla Flat is. On the way in I was caught behind a car but our speed was fine and it turned out to be a blessing in disguise. I was in fourth gear heading into the sweeping turns and I immediately noticed the road. Having just come from the well maintained smooth roads at South Mountain, I was getting beat up badly from the worn down 88. Looking at the pavement it looked as if two layers of the road had been worn down and the constant cracks in the pavement sent punches up through my shocks and into my body. The effect only got worse the farther into the road I rode. I have my bike suspension set for over 350 pounds and I’ve never had this issue where a road beat me up so bad. The memories and the expectation I had for this road were quickly replaced by the significant lack of fun I was having. I found certain parts of the road were worse than others and that caused me to want to slow. Another issue was as the pavement deteriorated there would be sand and gravel from the asphalt coming apart. Heading into a turn regardless of the bank, I didn’t feel comfortable my tires were gripping the road like I would have liked and I found myself not committing to turns like I’m used to for fear of losing grip. There are a couple of bridges on the way to Tortilla Flat and they were such a welcome break because they were so smooth in comparison.

One of the nice things I will say about this ride is the water. Canyon Lake was full and high and a gorgeous blue. In the last couple miles to my destination you could see the little old west town that was Tortilla Flat. It was nice to park the bike and get off the saddle to recover from the bumpy ride. I marked the way point in the Victory app and thought I took a photo but apparently I mistakenly didn’t log it in with the waypoint.

When I saw an opportunity to head back without being behind a car I took it. I didn’t stay at Tortilla Flat because I had been there before, I wasn’t going to eat anything at the restaurant, and the band wasn’t playing. It was late in the morning and I had a lunch appointment so I headed back. If I was going to come back I would either come in my SUV or I would rent a BMW dual sport and continue on past the point where the pavement ends and the dirt road continues to Roosevelt Lake. I figure that would be the best two wheeler to deal with this road until some time way in the future when they repave.

On the way back I decided to stop at the Goldfield Mining Town. It’s not a real town but I figure at some time it did serve as a mining out post. Now it’s a tourist trap focusing on the old west complete with a mini-train, a restaurant, and no shortage of taxidermy. Again, if I had more time I would spend it here but I never drink and ride. I entered another waypoint in the Victory app and ended the tracking. The photo is pretty much the only redeeming one I pulled from this ride.IMG_2010

By all means, don’t let my negative review of this ride discourage you from trying this same road. I figure my expectation got in the way and had I been more realistic about what I was about to experience I would have approached this with a better attitude and understanding. Like I mentioned, this is “that” ride that everyone does. I’ll look forward to riding this road again in the future when work has been done to emphasize the flat part of Tortilla Flat. IMG_2011IMG_2026

Getting high

IMG_2003It’s been a while since I’ve posted anything. There are all kinds of reasons why — holidays, travel, weather, and most recently a personal loss which needs to turn into an opportunity for growth. I’ve ridden my motorcycle in that time for various reasons but not for passionate enjoyment. I would ride to and from work or to run errands. But not his day. On this day I was riding to heal, to get closer to God, and to my true self.

On the anniversary of Arizona statehood, the weather was gorgeous. I have no idea who will be reading this but more than likely, if you’re not in this region, your weather is not anywhere near as great as mine. There are few places in the country that would allow for an 80 degree motorcycle riding day in the middle of February. It’s an invitation when the conditions are this excellent. And I took full advantage of that invitation.

I knew with having Friday off I wouldn’t have much other traffic. The sun came up around 7:30 am and after a quick coffee and breakfast at the Starbucks coffee shop, the temperature reading on my display said 62 degrees. I had my winter gloves on,  a Buff around my neck, and my leather vest underneath my leather jacket. I was very over dressed. I left the intersection of 24th street and Baseline and headed south towards the mountain.

I prefer this route to towards South Mountain because it takes you along the base of the park through neighborhoods and along golf courses. The side streets are only 25 mph but the slower speed makes it easier to take in the scenery to my left. I remember one time taking this same route to South Mountain and seeing a javelina along the side of the road. I had to stop and appreciate the chance to see one of the local beasts up close. On this day, there were no furry distractions which was too bad. There were also no other cars. It was early enough on this weekday that I knew I would have this ride all to myself. As I turn to go South on Central Ave. I pass a few horse stables and go through a pair of security houses before I’m officially in the park.

The Summit road starts with a sign reading, “… curves ahead. 15 mph”. I’m in third gear as I begin the climb on the road that starts out with sweeping lazy curves. Can I just say that I love the smooth well maintained road surface. At the lower speeds on twisty roads this surface compliments the experience ideally.

As I climb I drop into second gear and actively shift back and forth between first, second and third as the twists demand it. Even though I’ve ridden this wonderful road before I still really enjoy the balance and feel of this motorcycle. I can attack curves if I want or just lean in and flow with the bank of the road. The engine easily powers up the mountain with smooth transition between gears. Starting out with Journey’s “Don’t Stop Believing” playing over my speakers is a great touch to the whole experience.

I decided to try out the new Victory app on my iPhone. I’ve logged in and activate the GPS tracking at the beginning of the ride. Then I plug the phone into the bike and take advantage of the music as the bike also charges my phone. I’m really curious to see what I can do with this app and this ride. If I haven’t explained it before, Victory made the option of a phone or MP3 player connection standard on their Vic XCs. I plug in the iPhone in the rear left saddle bag and have a control cluster on the left handle bar in order to manipulate the music and volume. The biggest question I get is, “Can you hear the speakers?” and the answer is yes. I hear them up to about 80 mph with the Arlen Ness windshield I added which takes care of the majority of my rides.

IMG_2005Towards the top of the mountain, you are given a choice to go to various look out points. I chose to head on TV Tower road first. For those of you who might read this who don’t live in Phoenix, the very top of South Mountain is populated with several towers for television, cell phones, Ham radios and pretty much everything else you can think of in regards to broadcasting a signal. At night the towers are defined by bright red lights which you cannot only see vividly from the air but also serve as a kind of light house for the rest of the city. You can pretty much see the towers from any part of mid-town or uptown Phoenix.

By the time I enjoyed all the twisties to the end of the TV Tower road I stopped at a circular parking lot that showcased the towers on the one side and a gorgeous vista of the South East Valley on the other side. As the sun was low in the sky I took a panoramic photo. There were no other cars. I was free to fully enjoy this moment without interruption. After a bit, I took out my phone and marked a waypoint on the Victory app.

Next I headed back down the road and chose the Buena Vista Lookout for my next stop. It was a short trip to the lookout  point and I was behind an older pick up truck. As we arrived at the parking lot the driver got out and carried his newspaper to a bench about 100 feet from the parking lot. I had no idea who that man was but I respect a man who takes the time to drive up a mountain to read a paper overlooking all of Phoenix.

IMG_2007A nice surprise was a helicopter that had decided to land just up from the parking lot I was in. On the side of the chopper it said Fort McDowell Casino. I had noticed it when I was at the parking lot at the Towers because the helicopter was at a lower height than I was. Now having ridden to Buena Vista I was below the helicopter’s landing. I took a few moments to take some photos and then mark another waypoint in the Victory app before I left to go to the last stop, Dobbins Lookout.

Dobbins Lookout is by far the most popular of all the scenic points on South Mountain. There were a lot of other cars here; people who had just finished hiking workouts and tourists with cameras. I have been up here on several previous occasions. For me the TV Towers road was a brand new experience and as such seemed to fit better for today’s ride. I really just wanted time to myself to ride and connect with such a wonderful opportunity to ride today. I didn’t spend much time at this lookout because of my familiarity but I would highly encourage anyone else who rides up here for the first time to wander. At this lookout there is a circular dais with a neat metal legend of sorts which will explain where various other cities are. There is a large stone structure which resembles a house and a lot of different places to watch planes take off and land from Sky Harbor airport. I marked another waypoint and then got back on the VXC to head down the mountain.

Luckily, no traffic on the way down. The twisty turns felt amazing and at the bottom I was able to pull off and conclude my ride on the Victory app and grab a drink of water. As you can see from the screen shots I took, the app was pretty cool way to document the trip. I’m not sure if it goes to a general “cloud” where others can take a look at my ride but I have it saved and there is a share option for when I want to show someone else about this amazing ride.

I cannot recommend this ride highly enough. It is a short ride that will only take an hour or two but the twisty road is conveniently accessible and offers gorgeous looks. But I know this road gets crowded so if you come on a weekend be prepared to be behind a car which will take away from really enjoying the turns. Once a month, the park offers a “Silent Sunday” which prohibits any motorized vehicles on the mountain. And once a month, the San Juan road is open to motorized vehicles. I’ve written about San Juan in a previous post.

The great thing about starting early this particular morning is that I have time to head East for another ride to fill my morning. Next up: Tortilla Flat. IMG_2008IMG_2009

San Juan

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Yesterday I took full advantage of the opportunity to ride San Juan Road at South Mountain Park as a result of a fortunate job perk.

I’ve ridden the XC up South Mountain before. The road is a perfect set of twisties very close to the house that I will be blogging about in the future. But the side road off to San Juan is typically closed to vehicles. At the road’s junction there is a gate and the gate only allows access to bicycles or hikers and joggers because it’s normally locked. One weekend day a month the park rangers open up the road to vehicles and then a crowd of machines compete with cyclists to enjoy the views and vistas.

The road is a gorgeous stretch that though only a short five miles or so, is surrounded by mountains, and gives you the effect of not being in the sixth largest city in the United States. You see desert hills on both sides of you as the road twists through a valley. Along the way there are trail heads, picnic areas, and scenic pull outs. Then the road ends on a rise to a cul de sac and a gorgeous view of downtown Phoenix. From the end you can connect to more trail heads or spend time in the old stone structure. It’s an out and back that provides a wonderful temporary escape from city life.20131108-092717.jpg

So on this Thursday morning, I was on my XC and given permission by the Rangers to access the road along with several other volunteers. Everyone met at a scenic lookout point in order to set up a sort of command post and do some hiking and looking around. As luck would have it (wink, wink) I was able to leave the site early. Instead of heading straight back out of the park I took the road less traveled and embraced the perfect weather and the empty asphalt.

I turned my speakers down so I could take in what I was experiencing. The road wasn’t straight for long but before curving and twisting you ride towards cobalt colored mountain peaks off in the distance. It was in the upper 70s with the slightest breeze and wide open blue skies. Ideal conditions. To me, this is the definition of motorcycle cruising. I only wished it was a longer road or that I didn’t have to leave so that I could keep the fantasy going.

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People say go to your “happy place”. My happy place has typically been a beach somewhere like Byron Bay. But I think the challenge and the reward are in realizing happy places that are right under your nose. This was an opportunity and I thank God for giving this chance to me. It’s times like the moment I was in, on that winding road, that really embody why motorcyclists are such passionate people about riding. Sure, maybe you could appreciate the gift of that morning in a convertible but I’d take that Pepsi challenge any day and choose a motorcycle, pretty much any motorcycle, every time.

Alas, all good things must come to an end. As I rode past the gate, I fought the urge to turn right and complete the ride by heading up to the summit of South Mountain and instead went left. Left headed back to the office. Another stretch of miles to check off the list. Another memory strengthening my love affair with motorcycle riding and with this bike.

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Knowing what I don’t know

October is one of the best months to spend in Phoenix. But as Halloween passed I was still able to take advantage of the first day of November temps by attending Motorcycles On Main in Mesa once again.

The skies are clear blue and the highs are in the 80s. By the time the sun was setting the temps were in the upper 70s and slowly falling as the night got darker. Feeling the crisp wind on bare arms as I’m riding is a refreshing chill. Tonight would be special because I would reunite with my Meetup.com Victory Owners Group at an Italian deli on Main Street in Mesa.20131102-063219.jpg

If you aren’t familiar with Meetup.com, it is a website where people with common interests can “meet up”. They have everything from card playing meet ups to pet meet ups to singles meet ups to sports meet ups. And there are dozens of motorcycle meet ups that can get very specific. This meet up or that meet up is just for Harleys or just for women or just for sport bikes. Ours is technically just for people who ride Victory motorcycles but I’ve been out with these folks on rides in the past and people riding any make and model of bike have joined in. What I like about these guys is they are just down to Earth nice folks. The guy who established the meet up, David, does a great job about ensuring safety on rides by making sure everyone in the group rides carefully and no drinking is allowed. Another member of the meet up is Lee, who used to be a Victory mechanic. Between the two of them, both Vision riders, they know more about the nuances of Victory bikes than anyone I’ve met including people who work for Victory. They are an excellent resource and they love riding and they love Victory.

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Steve’s pin striping

As I rode through the barricades in order to park my bike next to the Italian deli, I saw there was another VXC with the same color as my bike. Obviously a man of good taste. I joined the table where everyone was gathered and started shaking hands of the people I hadn’t met before. One of the riders, Steve, began talking with me about his VXC Tour and his pin striping. I took a look at his bike while I was waiting for my food to arrive and was extremely impressed by the custom paint Steve had done. Steve told me he went to Vegas to have a guy do the work who he had read about on the internet. An hour and a half later and the very professional hand painting was finished. He called it “Subtle elegance” which basically meant, the pin striping would add to the whole bike and not be the dominating feature. His painter nailed it. Not all artists use clay or canvas.

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Left to Right: Me, Steve and his wife, and David

So a funny thing happened tonight. As Steve and I sat back down, we began talking Victory and the discussion eventually lead to maintenance and I shared with him my recent experience. He had gone to the same dealership to buy his bike. He said he read a blog about going to that dealer and because of that he would be returning there when his next service was up. He told me the blog was called, Passion 106. A smile crept across my face. At first I had to confirm what he had just said in my own mind. But once I figured out he was talking about this blog, I told him he was speaking with the author. It was a classic moment. To be totally honest, I wonder who even reads these words I put down here. My expectations aren’t really high. But hearing Steve talk about the blog did a couple things for me. One, it showed me that I will probably never know who does or doesn’t read what I write and that’s perfectly ok because I’m really writing this for me at the end of the day. Two, Steve actually enjoyed what I wrote and learned some things from my experiences. I might be writing for me, but that doesn’t change the fact that I’m putting these thoughts and opinions out there for the world to judge. I would imagine this is how an author feels when their book is reviewed positively by a critic. It was just nice to know Passion 106 is being well received.

The rest of the evening was spent talking at the table outside of the restaurant behind our line up of bikes watching the passers by take notice of the uniqueness of the Victory line, point, ogle, and comment. It was like people watching at the mall during Christmas. After a while we all went our separate ways and walked the strip of bikes ourselves.

Tonight I was on my own. Cris was drinking wine with her girlfriends, so I was free to wander. At events like this, I feel the need to separate myself from the rest of the model T riders. I don’t want to be mistaken for a Harley guy so I don my Victory trucker ball cap and confidently pick a side as I walk the street. Both curbs and the center median are lined with motorcycles for about a mile down old Mesa downtown. There is no shortage of leather vests. Bands playing a mix of blues, Kid Rock, and country battle for your attention depending on where you are along the road. Pop up tents selling motorcycle crafts dot the route as well. It was nice to see the Hells Angels maintaining their capitalist nature.

If you go to a car show, you will not see dealers showcasing their newest models on the side of the street like you do at bike nights/rallies. I was able to look at the new ’14 Harley line and see up close what all their relentless marketing was really about. But I naturally gravitated towards the Mesa Victory tent. They are good folks and invited me to a breakfast ride they have at the beginning of every month which was happening tomorrow. If I didn’t already have plans… but next month. Then I saw it. Like a Holy Grail or some kind of unicorn, there was a deep blue Indian Chieftain on display. 20131102-063157.jpgSo I took it for granted that Victory dealerships would naturally also start selling Indians as well. But I learned last night that despite both bikes being owned by Polaris, there were separate brands and not automatically sold by Vic dealers. Here is where it gets confusing: the Chieftain was being shown by Victory BMW of Chandler who does not sell any Victory bikes. They had the “Victory” name much longer than 16 years ago when Polaris introduced the Victory brand. Their “Victory” dealership sells, Vespa, BMW, and now Indian. It kind of makes sense. Now their dealership could sell cruiser motorcycles that were a “higher end” brand which could possibly appeal to their BMW clientele. I get it. Regardless of why they did it, there it was for me to touch and inspect. The engine was a gorgeous work of art and the fairing wasn’t as harsh as I initially thought. It was a great looking homage to the classic Indians. I’m glad I got a chance to see one up close and I’m glad it was the talk of everyone attending the event. No one was at the Harley tent. Soon, more Indians will ride the road. It was great to see. I like competition because I will then expect innovation.

Ironically, I fully expected my next post to be about a ride up to South Mountain and I would just be attending Motorcycles On Main for fun with nothing to write about. Go figure. It was a great time and with great people. I’m looking forward the next ride with these guys.

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American Motorcycle Association?

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A few motorcycles ago, a fellow rider strongly suggested I join the American Motorcycle Association (AMA). I put it off for a while because I really didn’t understand the value. Now that I have this new bike I figured that I would look into it.

The membership fee for a year is pretty cheap. About $45 a year. They advocate for street riders but seem to have their greatest presence and benefit to dirt bikers. It seems like they might be a lot like the NRA would be for motorcyclist. At this point, I’ve been given a shiny new card, a subscription to yet another membership magazine and a bunch of paperwork. In this very moment in time I don’t really see the benefit to belong to AMA other than the fact that I can say my dues contributed to their lobby in congress. But to me, my life isn’t changed significantly one way or the other. I suppose if I use their road side assistance in the off chance I don’t use the Victory road side assistance then I might feel vindicated. Only time will tell I guess. I would be interested in hearing what other people’s experiences are with the AMA.

New Windshield

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My bike is just about perfect. But that doesn’t mean that it can’t be modified in order to fit me better. I love listening to the music when I ride but at higher speeds, I would have to crank up the volume in order to hear the tunes. 

Another VXC rider told me about http://www.arlenness.com. Arlen Ness is obviously the motorcycle designer who Victory tasked with creating the XC. His website has a windshield called the Flip Windshield for the VXC. What I like about it is the windshield gets the best of both worlds: it maintains the low profile coolness while moving the wind just enough so I can hear the radio. 

Ordering the windshield off of their site was a pain in the ass so I just called them. I had to wait a little longer because the windshield was on back order. Must be popular. It was pretty easy to install because it utilized the same four bolts that are on the existing windshield. Just a little working it into the grooves and it was ready. Now that I have one I love it. Definitely worth the money. 

Now all I need is a luggage rack and I’ll be golden. The quest continues.